Snapshot: Treasure

“Grant me the treasure of sublime poverty: permit the distinctive sign of our order to be that it does not possess anything of its own beneath the sun, for the glory of your name, and that it have no other patrimony than begging.”

Francis of Assisi

Treasure

Proverbs 2:1-11 / Proverbs 8:17-21 / Matthew 6:19-34 / Matthew 13:44-46 / Luke 9:25 / Luke 12:32-34 / 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

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There is a saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”; it means that treasure is often subjective.  It’s why the child cries inconsolably when someone throws away their favourite blanket or toy that they’ve loved to rags; it’s why garage sales (US), boot sales (UK) or flea markets work so well.  But no matter how much treasure we gather around us on this earth, we can take none of it with us when we go; that treasured trophy becomes a dust collector on someone else’s shelf.

True treasure is another matter entirely:  Treasure that we can send ahead – depositing for when life really begins beyond the veil of mortal death (Luke 12:32-34).  Proverbs 1:7 tells us that fear (a loving reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, while Proverbs 2:1-11 & Proverbs 8:17-21 tell us that wisdom leads to imperishable treasures.  Not only do wisdom and understanding bring eternal treasure, but also blessings in the present:  When we understand what it means to reverently submit to the Lord (and the more we understand his character, the easier it is to trust him), we will find ourselves under his protection and blessing.  That is not some kind of divine insurance policy – it’s not a guarantee that life will always go smoothly, peacefully, protected and blessed; it means that we won’t complicate things by making as many stupid decisions.  Humans, without God, have an amazing capacity for finding ways to screw up their lives!  When we walk in relationship with God, he will teach us wisdom, and discretion will protect us.

Earthly treasure is ultimately useless; when Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with his own mortality in A Christmas Carol, he realizes that his wealth was only a gilded cage, and begins to live generously – though his first change was one of the heart.  Jesus asks us in Luke 9:25What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” while Luke 12:32-34 tells us to use the wealth we have to bless others, and in so doing laying up true treasures in heaven.  There is a powerful spiritual dynamic that manifests itself when we live generously:  The hold on our hearts of wealth and materialism weakens… they lose their power over us when we cease to be slaves to riches to begin to master it (Matthew 6:24).  That is the principle behind tithing:  Meaning “tenth”, in ancient times tithe was given in produce (vegetable or animal), and the amount of 10% was symbolic of 100% – it was a declaration that God deserved it all, and it was putting one’s wealth entirely under his Lordship.

Malachi 3:9-10 tells us clearly what happens when one brings (and also when one does not bring) the whole tithe to God.  If your finances are tight, it may be because you’re not giving enough!  It sounds contradictory to the rational mind, but it is a spiritual principle that I’ve never seen fail.  When I was a missionary funds were often tight; withdrawing £10 from my bank account was a strain; but when I tithed, even the widow’s mite (Luke 21:2), that money suddenly lasted a lot longer.  Years later, my husband and I were experiencing a financially tight time; we investigated our accounts and realized that we weren’t giving enough away!  We raised our support of a few missionaries, and soon our finances were healthy.  It makes no sense by worldly standards – but it’s a principle of a Kingdom that’s far more powerful!

Portrait:  The Magi

The Magi brought treasures to Jesus:  The quantities of gifts were fitting not only for a great foreign king they’d travelled nearly two years to pay honour to, but also represented their own importance as well.  The three gifts offered by the Magi were very significant ones:  Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth.  It is one of the only metals that when heated loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but still allows impurities to surface; it is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement.  Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity; it was familiar to most people in the ancient world and used in religious ceremonies.  Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter.  It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead, and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming:  His death, burial and resurrection.  It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth.  It was used medicinally as a pain killer (often dissolved in wine) which is likely the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23).   This treasure provided immediate wealth to enable Joseph to uproot his young family in the dead of night and flee to Egypt and set up a life there (Matthew 2:13-14).  The treasure was a means to an end, as all treasure should be; those who accumulate and collect only to possess will end up being controlled by the very treasures they cannot take with them when they die, and likely did not enjoy while here on earth.  When we lay our treasures at the feet of Jesus, he will take it and use it for a blessing through us for others, which in turn blesses us with so much more than money can buy!

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Are there treasures in your life that have a hold on you in some way?  I would challenge you to give them away, or sell them – let them go, so that they will release you.  If it is a treasure that is intrinsically useful but has become an addiction, such as the constant presence of your cell phone or television, find a way to set it aside daily and enjoy the company of those you’re physically with now, honouring them with undivided attention.  Matthew 19:21-26 shows us how wealth had a grip on the young rich man; true freedom would only come when he let go of that control.  With God, all things are possible… so much more than when we try it on our own.  See also Isaiah 45:3.

Snapshot: Anger

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Mark Twain

Anger

Proverbs 14:16-17 / Proverbs 16:32 / Proverbs 19:11 / Ecclesiastes 7:9 / Ephesians 4:26-29 / Ephesians 4:31-32 / James 1:19-25

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Proverbs minces no words:  Anger is foolish, and gives a false sense of security to the one angry, but in the end it will make you do foolish things, and make you despised.  I don’t know of a single angry person who’s happy, or satisfied with what they’ve accomplished, or with their relationships.  More often than not, the ones I know are bitter people from broken relationships, partly because anger is intrinsically selfish and isolating.  It’s not about honouring others or even themselves; it’s about the angry person’s rights, their wounds, their sense of fairness (as long as they’re the ones getting the benefit of it).  Solomon, the wisest king, wrote “better a patient person than a warrior; one with self-control than one who takes a city.”  He preferred level-headed, patient people in his entourage; the opposite can be more destructive than helpful, and in my experience a patient or level-headed person has far fewer “fires” to put out in life – they can apply their energy to constructive force rather than wasting it in destructiveness.  Proverbs 17:1 makes it clear that poverty or wealth have little to do with happiness and peace; it’s about attitudes and choices.  Fools are angry, lack self-control, have perverse lips, lash out and injure those around them, are quickly provoked, are rash, cruel and mocking… in short, Proverbs 22:24-25 tells us not to associate with angry people; I honestly don’t know anyone who would voluntarily choose to.  Hurt people hurt people; but our choices and attitudes determine whether we perpetuate a cycle of woundedness or not; it’s easier to blame the person who hurt us than deal with our own responses or reactions, but that is exactly what we must do in order to break the hold over us of those who’ve hurt us.

So if you recognized yourself in the descriptions above, even in the slightest way, how can you change?  Ephesians 4:26ff implies that it’s a choice; but it’s not simply a choice of how we think; rather, it requires the involvement of our whole being, body, soul (our mind, will and emotions) and spirit.  It begins with repentance – asking forgiveness, and becoming repulsed by the ways of anger.  It requires humbling yourself, and asking for forgiveness from those who’ve been injured by you (verbally, physically, emotionally… such abuse takes many forms), and finding someone to hold you accountable on your attitudes, actions and reactions.  Romans 12:2 tells us how to have our minds renewed:  Choose not to conform to the old pattern, but allow God to guide you step by step to freedom.  Ephesians 4:31 gives us the next step:  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and every malice; in other words, clean it out, dump the rubbish, and stop wallowing in it.  You get rid of those things by forgiving.  Forgive as much as necessary; forgive those who’ve hurt or abused you; forgive yourself.  Then begin to walk and act in the opposite spiritEphesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate… forgiving – just as Christ forgave you.”  James 1:19-25 tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak (i.e. think carefully before you simply lash out), and slow to become angry.  Why?  Because human anger produces unrighteousness; it leads to wrong thought patterns, wrong behaviours, wrong actions, wrong perspectives.  Those wrongs not only separate us from God, but will eventually isolate us in a small, lonely, bitter world.  Where’s the advantage in that?  Another step away from anger you can take is to study the Word of God, the Bible; it gives freedom (James 1:25), and brings blessing by teaching us to walk the path of righteousness.  Proverbs is a very good place to start reading – there are 72 references to fools!

Portrait:  Esau

Read about Esau in Genesis 25:29-34; 26:34-35; 27:36-41; 32:7-33:16.

Esau blamed his problems on others:  No one forced him to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, and when Jacob took the blessing (even though he had to use deceit to get it), it was rightfully his since Esau had sold him his birthright, yet Esau swore to kill his brother because of it.  Esau consistently did things that drove wedges into the close-knit nomadic family that separated them or grieved his parents for years.  When Jacob and Esau finally faced reunion, Jacob wouldn’t put it past his own brother to slaughter women and children; Jacob didn’t even trust Esau’s offer of protection, but went to great lengths to make peace from his own side anyway.  We’ll never know whether or not Esau ever forgave Jacob, or calmed to a rational, forgiving man; the Bible doesn’t tell us.  But if he did not, I can’t imagine he ever lived a life of security or peace, because anger has a way of making enemies.

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Imagine having lived in a dark boiler room your whole life, now to emerge and see the sun and breathe fresh air… that’s what awaits those freed from the clutches of anger.  If you have any anger issues, bring them to God and find freedom, forgiveness, and a fresh start!  Find someone you know or a help group to hold you accountable and help you break the habits of anger, until you have changed from the inside out.  It is worth every effort!  At the top are suggested daily snapshots of God’s word on the topic.

Snapshot: Beauty

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

beautiful-face

1 Samuel 16:7 / Psalm 27:1-14 / Ecclesiastes 3:11 / Isaiah 52:7 / Philippians 4:8 / 1 Peter 3:3-4 / 1 John 2:15-17

Snapshot

What is beauty?  You’ve probably heard the adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it’s true.  The media tries to push a cultural ideal of beauty onto all of us, men and women alike; it tries to convince us that skinny is beautiful, or to sell their ideal through competition like “sexiest man/woman of the year”.  The cultural ideals of western cultures today vary, as do those of non-western cultures and eras of the past.  The renaissance ideal of beauty was a full-figured, voluptuous woman; thin was considered not only a sign of poverty, but of weakness – a thin person probably wouldn’t have survived long because they had no bodily reserves to fall back on in famine or in times of illness.  This standard is still true for many cultures today, such as South American, African, or Polynesian.

The Bible has quite a bit to say on the topic:  1 Samuel 16:7 & 1 Peter 3:3-4 tell us plainly that beauty is not outward; God looks at the heart, and is attracted to the gentle and quiet spirit.  The beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:1-14) is his character – his faithfulness, mercy, goodness and so much, much more.  The more we come to know God through relationship to him, the more we will become like him (Romans 8:29), and thus the more beautiful we become.  When Philippians 4:8 urges us to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent & praiseworthy, it is a recipe for inner beauty, strong health and strong characters in balance with God and with ourselves.  1 John 2:15-17 warns us not to buy into the world’s focus – keeping up with the Joneses, using material possessions as a gauge for success, or boasting of what one has or does; we need to remember that “there but for the grace of God go I” – that what we have or can do are gifts of God’s grace; no one is entitle to anything at the end of the day, and no one can take anything with them… we are merely stewards of those things placed in our care, and how we use them is more important than that we have them (Matthew 25:14-30).  Matthew 6:21 tells us that where our treasure is, there is our heart.  So if you want to be truly wealthy, gather your treasure in heaven (1 Timothy 6:18-19) by doing good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share – so that we may take hold of life that is truly worth living… truly beautiful.

Portrait: The Beloved (Song of Solomon)

The Beloved on the Song of Songs was not considered beautiful in the accepted standard of her time; wealthy women kept their skin pale by protecting themselves from the harsh sun; the beloved was a lowly field worker, made dark by the sun (SS 1:5-6).  But in the eyes of the lover, she was the desire of his soul, worthy to be praised and taken as wife by King Solomon.  Reminiscent of Disney’s classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, Solomon’s beloved reminds us that beauty comes from within, and is drawn out by the Lover of our Souls, Jesus.  Solomon’s love is a symbol of God’s love for us, and it is for that very reason that such a story resonates down through the ages, and is the plot of thousands of novels and films… the knight in shining armour on a white horse is straight out of Revelation 19:11-16.

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Have you bought into the world’s definition or prejudices of beauty?  Dustin Hoffman made that discovery of himself when he was preparing for the role of Tootsie; he went home and cried at the epiphany, regretting the wonderful people he’d brushed off because they didn’t meet the shallow standards of beauty he’d adhered to.  He approached the role with reverence, and a new-found love for people “outside the box”.  See his interview here.  If you haven’t already done so, lay aside the world’s mentality and look around with new eyes.  Look at yourself with God’s eyes and develop your inner beauty.

Proverbs 31:30; Isaiah 53:2

Snapshot: Acceptance

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”

J.K. Rowling

Acceptance

Matthew 7:1-5 / Matthew 9:10-13 / Matthew 25:31-46 / Mark 4:1-20 / John 8:1-11 / Romans 10:9-13 / Romans 14

Snapshot

When we think of acceptance, it might usually be in the context of self-acceptance, or that of trials and testing.  Both are aspects of it, but the scriptures I’ve chosen for this week’s reading (above) seek to expand our perception of what it means to accept; it is an intrinsically neutral term.

We can accept (“agree to an action; receive something offered; approve of”) others, ourselves, God’s direction, correction, gifts, and even weaknesses or differences.  Sometimes acceptance is positive, sometimes negative.  Some things we shouldn’t accept are condemnation; limitations as dead-ends and resignation; bad attitudes; stagnation; sin; stubbornness or pride – I think you get the idea.  We should never accept our weaknesses as the last word on an issue, but allow God to transform and renew us, taking us deeper in maturity.  We should accept others as they are (Romans 15:7) yet also encourage and expect them to change and grow and mature as well – regardless of what their background or lifestyle was – because we’re all new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Things we should categorically never accept as part of our lives are the world’s standards, attitudes, mentalities, habits, values, half-baked philosophies or pseudo-wisdom!  To accept what is good and reject what is evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22) requires discernment; it’s a muscle we learn to exercise by becoming more like Jesus – by asking ourselves in any given situation, “What would Jesus do?” and acting accordingly.

Portrait: Ruth

Ruth was a foreigner who married a Jewish refugee, and accepted his culture and family as her own.  When he died and his mother was suddenly bereft of both sons and her husband (which, in that age, meant that she had a very bleak future ahead, with no protection, no income, no security in her old age, no legal rights to inheritance of property, and certainly no way of supporting herself and two daughters-in-law), Ruth accepted it all – a future with no prospects – because she loved Naomi, and her heart was hungry for the righteousness of the God of Israel.  She chose to accept a bleak future to do what she knew was right, and God proved himself faithful to both her and Naomi.  Ruth accepted her mother-in-law’s authority over her life and her advice, walking in humble obedience, and she was rewarded with a faithful husband, provider, protector and children; and in all that she didn’t forget to take care of Naomi – she gave the older woman her first-born son to call her own, to give her a future security and hope.  And Ruth, the foreigner, became the great-grandmother of King David, and ancestor of the Messiah himself; she’s one of only five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

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Are there things in your life that you need to accept more of, for example God’s interaction in your life, advice, or love?  Are there perhaps things you need to weed out and stop accepting, like sin, complacency, wrong values or attitudes?  Go for it – While we were still sinners, Christ loved us enough to die for us (Romans 5:8)!  At the top are suggested daily snapshots of God’s word on the topic.